Scholarly editing around Europe
Farewell from DiXiT by ESR 6
As the DiXiT period comes to an end … it is not easy, but at least pleasant because of the good memories, to sum it up.
DiXiT started for me in April 2014 when I left the École des Chartes in Paris and arrived at the Huygens Institute in Den Haag. It was still cold and few bars on the beach in Scheveningen were open and served tea, next to the fire, with a moving view at the North Sea. It was the first time I could afford an apartment larger than 15 meters squared and I remember turning on the first cigarette in my new kitchen with a certain satisfaction. I also remember the friendly welcome by Peter Boot and Karina van Dalen Oskam, worried that Dutch people might be too “rude” (or the version I prefer: “direct and sincere”). And a sympathetic and helpful Elli Bleeker, the first DiXiT fellow I got in touch with, together with Heidi Dowding, my office-mate back then.
If I now jump to the end, I remember a lovely farewell dinner in Peter’s garden, with most of the people who made my stay at the Huygens Institute pleasant and fruitful. Also, a bike ride under a thin rain on my last day in Amsterdam, with the same Elli Bleeker and my office-mate-DiXiT-co-fellow, the brilliant Anna-Maria Sichani.
Now, something has happened in between:
The fellowship: Editing tools
After some months into my fellowship, I realized that the original project ‘TEI and web-based editing tools’ was deeply linked to the future of eLaborate, a web-based application for creating digital editions, whose compatibility with TEI should have been improved. Quite soon, the plan for eLaborate changed at the Institute, and my own interest brought me to enlarge a bit the scope of the research, to ‘editing tools’ tout-court: and by editing tools, I mean all those pieces of software that could be used by textual scholars in the process of creating a scholarly digital edition.
The first task I took on has been to look at transcribing and encoding tools. The idea was to provide something different than a survey or a review; but to analyse some of the most relevant tools and reflect on the common features and requirements of these programs. A detailed report, including general considerations and an analysis of T-Pen, CWRC-Writer, eLaborate, TextGrid, Ecdosis, can be found here.
In testing different applications, it was immediately clear that interoperability among them is a fundamental challenge: this is often due to anything added to the simple text, for instance the mark-up or the metadata. One of the most interesting solution, as already mentioned in the report by my colleague Misha Broughton, is the use of simple text and stand-off annotations. Therefore, I spent my first secondment at the University of Oxford, under the guidance of James Cummings, working together with Magdalena Turska and Misha, on a model of stand-off TEI encoding, that we finally presented at the 2015 TEI conference in Lyon (and that will soon be published).
In the meantime, my curiosity towards automatic collation and categorization of textual variants growth sharply. My first contact with automatic collation was through Ronald Dekker, the main developer of CollateX, as I was lucky enough to work under the same roof as him. While trying to understand how this program works, I started to read about the history of automatic collation. It felt natural then to choose the digital edition of Dante’s Commedia by Shaw for a RIDE Review (all DiXiT fellows were invited to do one), because that edition used Peter Robinson’s Collate, which occupied a central role in the history of automatic collation.
Shaw’s edition was important for me for another reason too, that is because it uses an effective approach to the problem of collating medieval texts, which are highly variant in spelling. Later on, I tried other methods for addressing this challenge, including the pre-processing of the texts with NLP tools that identifies the lemma of each word (test folder). But not a lot of NLP tools are available for medieval languages: I am currently writing about it, and about the existing resources, in FonteGaiaBlog.
Another aspect of collating medieval texts is the importance of not to give for granted a certain order of the witnesses, thus the better suitability of algorithms for multiple alignment, instead of pairwise alignment. My notes about it are collected in a paper for the ESTS-2016 Conference, held in Antwerp in conjunction with the third DiXiT Convention.
As said, textual variation, in terms of categorization of variants, was and still is a fascinating field to me. I presented a work in progress at the workshop (Document) Changes: modeling, detection, storage and visualization (ACM – Doc Engineering), invited by my co-fellow Gioele Barabucci. The features identified for classifying textual variants were then revised for a new and passionating project: Boccaccio’s Commedia (La Commedia di Boccaccio). The idea behind it came up during lazy Sunday conversations with my colleague and friend Sonia Tempestini, who then agreed to share the results of her PhD thesis on the manuscripts of Dante’s Divina Commedia copied by Boccaccio himself. We created a database for storing and organizing the variants among these witnesses and built a website on top of it. Most of all, we spent lot of time discussing the variants classification and how to transform it into a formal and computable model. The project has been presented in a number of conferences and an article about it will be published soon.
Last but not least, publication of digital edition was also a topic to look at. The importance of visualization has been discussed in the first DiXiT Convention, in the panel ‘Data vs Visualization’ that Magdalena, Gioele and I organized (my slides | paper published in DiXiT Proceedings).
Later on, the work on the TEI Simple Processing Model captured my attention, a framework developed by Magdalena Turska and other prominent people from the TEI Community, implemented into an eXist-DB package (TEI Publisher) by Wolfgang Meyer. After an eXist-DB training in Maynooth in 2015, organized by Magdalena and Richard Hadden, I used the TEI Publisher for a prototype of digital edition of Ernesto Monaci’s letters (Archivio Monaci – Società Filologica Romana – Università Sapienza), during my secondment in Rome, with “a little help from my friends” (a.k.a. Magda and Wolfgang).
DiXiT also gives me the opportunity to spend some months working with one of its commercial partner, the Italian IT company NetSeven, in Pisa. There too I focused on visualization and publishing solutions, testing the framework Muruca.
From transcription to encoding, collation and visualization, during my fellowship I gained some expertise in “tools and tooling” for scholarly digital editions. I had by my side some helpful allies: my supervisor, Peter Boot, always eager and attentive to discuss with me choices and hypothesis, and careful to put me back on tracks; my colleagues at the Huygens Institute, producing cutting-edge scholarship which I could only learn from; the supervisors and co-fellows in DiXiT, who provided the better company I could ever imagine for talking about scholarly digital editions (and much more).
Not only the fellowship: Fontegaia and the Lexicon
Apart from what strictly regards the topic of my research, DiXiT allows me to get in contact with some important projects in the field: ‘FonteGaia’, thanks to one of its founder, Elena Pierazzo; and the ‘Lexicon of Scholarly Editing’, thanks to its editor-in-chief, Wout Dillen. The contributions to these projects took the shape of several blogposts and one article (‘Il Lexicon of Scholarly Editing: una bussola nella Babele delle tradizioni filologiche’), co-authored with Wout Dillen and Monica Zanardo, recently published in ‘Ecdotica’ (13, 2016).
Not only research: workshops, teaching and conferences
I must admit that among the things I most enjoyed during the DiXiT period, no matter how tiring and time consuming, were the workshops we organized together: a three days workshop dedicated to automatic collation, with Elli Bleeker, Ronald Dekker and others; the one week workshop ‘Digital Scholarly Editions and Modern Greek Studies’, with Anna-Maria Sichani, Magdalena Turska and Elly Mylonas; the workshop ‘The Educational and Social Impact of Digital Scholarly Editions’ with Anna-Maria as well and Fabio Ciotti. In these occasions we exchanged with scholars from a wide variety of disciplines and countries, and felt that we were doing something useful, somehow.
At the Huygens Institute, we also hosted the first DiXiT Convention, devoted to ‘Technology, Software, Standards for the Digital Scholarly Edition’. I have been co-editing the Proceedings, which will be available pretty soon together with those of the other DiXiT Conventions.
Gain and loss
+ When I started I was sure about what was a critical edition. I was/am a medievalist, trained in Italy in Romance Philology, which means that I knew something about the literature of the medioevo romanzo and about textual criticism. After three years of exchange with people from different disciplines and backgrounds, I learned that the meaning of, for instance, ‘critical text’ and ‘variation site’ changes depending on the period of the text and of the scholar tradition you are part of. Is this a gain? I think so. At least, I am not frustrated anymore when I talk with someone with a different background and I get to know different methodologies!
+ I found Digital Humanities, and DiXiT in particular, a friendly and informal scholarly world, where I could tutoyer my “superiors” and even sit at the same table.
+ All of us DiXiT fellows had so many opportunities to present in front of a (very small or fairly large) public, that we all learned something about how to do it. We even had a bit of training on presenting, during the second DiXiT Convention, about which I was most skeptical and which turns out to be a very entertaining class. This is not to say that we are professional presenters. But at least we know that feeling of nervousness and fear.
+ I am convinced we have been incredibly lucky for having co-fellows who were able to talk not only about scholarly editing (which we have done quite a lot), but also to share something else. We experienced good and bad moments together, and create bonds. I will miss them all: the silent ones, the happy, the focused, the melancholic, the pragmatic, the insecure, the loquacious, the barefoot, the inventive, the solid, the friendly, the sweet, the cheerful, the experienced ones. It has been great to have them as ‘us’.
– No loss recorded, apart from intermittent extreme fatigue, difficulty of express myself and understand what the others were saying in this beautiful English language1, and troubles in choosing among too many interesting stuff to do.
In 2016 I completed my PhD in Romance Philology at the University of Rome, with a dissertation on the ancient French Lancelot, its origin and its textual transmission.
From July 2017, I am a post-doc researcher at the University of Lausanne, working on the scholarly digital edition of the contemporary Swiss author Gustave Roud’s complete works. I found an incredible team here and an office from which I hear the bleating of the sheep and the call of the boats on the lake.
I am now looking forward to the next unofficial DiXiT meeting 🙂
I want to thank José Luis Losada, with whom I travelled around Europe, for letting me know Bünting’s map and many others.
1No English proof-reading for this blogpost. I apologize for any inconvenience.